Boston Celtics: Denver Nuggets
Sullinger got tagged with his latest flagrant-1 foul for making contact to the head of the Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin during the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 111-105 loss at the Staples Center. Despite having one of two flagrant-1s from Tuesday's loss in Denver downgraded earlier in the day, Sullinger is back at five flagrant points and is in line for a one-game suspension with his next flagrant foul.
Sullinger pleaded that he tried to pull back on Griffin while defending a baseline drive with 10 minutes to play, but referees deemed it a flagrant-1 after video review.
Before Wednesday's game, Sullinger apologized for the second flagrant, which led to his ejection, on Tuesday.
Sullinger got tagged with a pair of flagrant-1 fouls 23 seconds apart in the third quarter of Tuesday's loss to the Nuggets, earning an automatic ejection. Upon league review, Sullinger's hard two-handed foul to prevent J.J. Hickson from getting a layup in transition was downgraded from a flagrant-1 to a personal foul.
But Sullinger landed an elbow to the face of Kenneth Faried on Boston's ensuing offensive possession and that flagrant was upheld upon review, even as Sullinger admitted Wednesday that it was an unintentional product of frustration from Boston's recent lackluster play.
"The second one, I didn’t really mean to go for [Faried's] head," Sullinger said. "I thought, honestly, I was going for his shoulder, to try to get a little chicken wing off. I was not trying to go for his chin or his cheekbone. That was a total mistake on my part, a miscalculation on my part. Overall, I just want to apologize on that one.
"Also, when you lose by so much, that’s one of the reasons [for frustration fouls]. And also when you go on a losing streak, you kind of get frustrated with yourself because you try to play as hard as you can to put your team in a position to win, and it just seems like the ball’s not rolling in our favor. You get real frustrated. But my problem was I wore my emotions on my sleeve instead of keeping it internal."
For the second straight game, the Celtics gave up a season high in points, this time with Denver taking whatever it wanted. The Nuggets shot 60.6 percent (20 of 33) around the basket and 45.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc (14 of 31). Boston's perimeter defense was nonexistent, whether it was defending the 3-point stripe or trying to stop Denver's guards from attacking the basket.
The frustration bubbled over in the third quarter for Jared Sullinger, who got tagged with two flagrant-1 fouls in the span of 23 seconds and was ejected from the game. Sullinger committed a hard foul on J.J. Hickson trying to prevent a layup in transition, then caught Kenneth Faried with an elbow to the face trying to make a move to the basket on Boston's next offensive possession.
Sullinger, so vital when Boston played its best basketball of the season, has struggled recently, hindered by a hand injury that's nagged him since late November. With the Celtics enduring a fifth straight loss (and eighth in nine tries), it's clear there's frustration for some Boston players.
But maybe not enough.
The problem lately is that not enough players are translating frustration into effort. Everyone knew this road trip was going to be tough, but through two games the Celtics have shown an alarming tendency to just roll over when the team encounters adversity.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens can deal with losing. He can't tolerate a lack of effort.
Which is why there was an extended pause when he was asked after Tuesday's game if there were any positives he could pluck from his team's play. Stevens ultimately singled out Bayless, who missed eight of the 11 shots he took while finishing with six points over 25:26 in his Boston debut.
But he was one of the few guys to play with consistent effort and that's what resonated with Stevens.
Veteran Gerald Wallace said before this trip that it would likely define Boston's season. He challenged his teammates again after Tuesday's loss, suggesting they need to take all their locker room chatter about turning things around and back it up on the court.
As Wallace noted, until this team plays with better effort, it's all talk. And while it's great that Wallace, a 13th-year veteran, is uneasy about the team's recent play, it'd be better if the guys tasked with doing the heavy lifting on the court played with the urgency he suggests is being talked about in the locker room.
Rapid reaction after the Denver Nuggets defeated the Boston Celtics 129-98 on Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center:
THE NITTY GRITTY
For the second time in as many games, the Celtics gave up a season high in points, this time watching the Nuggets shoot 51.8 percent overall (43 of 83) and 45.2 percent (14 of 31) beyond the 3-point arc. Randy Foye scored a team-high 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting with seven 3-pointers while adding five rebounds and five assists over 38:45. He was also a game-best plus-31 in plus/minus. Kenneth Faried added 21 points and 13 rebounds, while Ty Lawson kicked in 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets. Jeff Green scored a team-high 17 points to pace five Boston players in double figures. But the Nuggets dominated the game, getting whatever they wanted inside and out against a Boston team that showed little resistance.
It took six minutes for Denver to build a double-digit lead. Boston fought back a bit while getting within a possession in the first quarter, but seemed defeated by the time the Nuggets pushed it back to double figures. A little 8-0 burst, punctuated by a Lawson 3-pointer, had the Nuggets out front 55-37 with 5:17 to go in the first half. Denver led by 23 at the intermission and pushed the bulge as high as 32.
Celtics center Jared Sullinger picked up two flagrant-1 fouls in the span of 23 seconds in the third quarter and was ejected from the game. Hop HERE for more on that.
Jerryd Bayless, formally acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, played 26 minutes in his Boston debut and scored six points on 3-of-11 shooting with three assists and three steals. He hit a nice pull-up jumper to end the first quarter with his first bucket in green, but struggled with his shot from there (missing all three 3-pointers he attempted). He was minus-13 for the night.
Kris Humphries did not play due to a sprained left ankle and Boston missed both his size and effort level. ... Without Humphries, rookie Vitor Faverani scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds over 15:35. ... In the team's first game since trading away Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans logged 13 minutes and chipped in nine points with a couple of second-half 3-pointers. ... Denver dominated on the glass, 56-35.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (13-22) have lost five straight and eight of their last nine. Sullinger's ejection showed the frustration level of the team, but the road trip doesn't get any easier. Boston visits the Clippers for the tail end of a back-to-back on Wednesday in Los Angeles, then another back-to-back looms later this week against Golden State and Portland as part of four games in five days.
Referees reviewed both plays to confirm the calls. Sullinger finished with eight points on 4-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds over 14:23.
More concerning for Boston is that -- pending league review of Tuesday's two flagrant-1 fouls -- Sullinger has been assessed a league-high five flagrant fouls and will be issued a mandatory one-game suspension with his next flagrant foul.
A flagrant-1 foul is defined as unnecessary contact committed by a player against an opponent. The opposing team is awarded two free throws and possession. Suspensions jump to two games per flagrant after a player reaches eight flagrant points (one point for a flagrant-1; two points for a flagrant-2).
Sullinger's first foul seems the more likely of the two to potentially be downgraded upon league review. His foul on Hickson didn't seem all that egregious (at least not as much as the frustration elbow to Faried). If that first flagrant is downgraded, it would pull Sullinger back from the cusp of suspension (though, in that scenario, he'd still be line for a one-game ban with any flagrant-2 violation).
- BAY(LESS)WATCH: The Boston Celtics finalized a three-team swap that formally delivered Jerryd Bayless on Tuesday. He's been assigned Courtney Lee's old No. 11 jersey and will jump right into the fray against the Nuggets. The Celtics are hoping being in green gives him the same spark as playing against it. In two games against Boston this season, Bayless averaged 18.5 points on 57.1 percent shooting over 21 minutes per game.
- TEAMS HEADED IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS: The Celtics scored a 106-98 triumph over Denver a month ago, during one of their best stretches of basketball. The Nuggets were enduring a stretch where they lost 11 of 14 games, including eight in a row spanning into the new calendar year. But the Celtics have lost seven of their last eight, while Denver has won two in a row (putting up 137 points against the Lakers the other night). Boston's defense, which gave up a season-high 119 points in a loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday, needs a better night if the Celtics are to compete.
- WHAT ELSE?: Kris Humphries sat out practice on Monday with a minor ankle sprain, but he was expected to be available for Tuesday's game. ... The Celtics are winless (0-5) on the road against the West this season. ... This is the start of two back-to-backs this week for Boston and it wraps on Wednesday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles.
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BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Denver Nuggets 106-98 on Friday night at TD Garden:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Early foul trouble for Jared Sullinger pressed Kris Humphries into action and he responded with his finest performance in a Boston uniform, totaling a season-high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting with 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block over 23:32. Humphries was a team-best plus-26 in plus/minus and helped the Celtics fend off the second-half surges of the Nuggets. Boston put five players in double figures, including four members of the first unit, with Jordan Crawford totaling a starters-best 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting over 33:43. Boston led by as many as 27 in the first half and 20 at the intermission, shooting 51.8 percent overall. Ty Lawson scored a team-high 20 points for Denver but departed in the second half with a left hamstring injury.
The Celtics gave themselves a comfortable cushion over the first 4½ minutes, building a two-touchdown lead before the Nuggets even got on the scoreboard. Boston connected on seven of its first nine shots (while Denver missed its first eight) and led 14-0 before J.J. Hickson drew a shooting foul and broke up the shutout with 7:20 to play in the first quarter. Boston didn't relent and Jeff Green's 30-foot 3-pointer near the end of the frame had Boston out front 39-15 after one.
FENDING OFF THE NUGGETS
The Nuggets did eventually rally, starting the third quarter as strong as Boston had started the first. It took less than five minutes for Boston's lead to shrink from 20 to 4, and it was a one-possession game a couple times later in the frame. Unfazed, the Celtics rode the Humphries/Crawford combo and pushed their lead back to 10 before the end of the quarter.
Crawford had his left wrist taped up at Thursday's practice, but clearly it wasn't an issue. He hit some big shots as Denver rallied in the third quarter to keep the charging Nuggets at arm's length, and he also added a team-high eight assists on the night. ... Crash Wallace, Part II: OK, so it wasn't his filthy turn-back-the-clock jam from Tuesday's win over the Bucks, but Gerald Wallace had another highlight-caliber dunk on Friday. This time he cut backdoor and Vitor Faverani found him for a fourth-quarter slam. ... Another great night valuing the ball for Boston: The Celtics turned it over just 10 times leading to a mere 11 points. ... Boston had 25 assists on 43 field goals. ... Sullinger got hit with two early fouls and that likely contributed to one of his quieter outings in recent games. He finished with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, but was a team-worst minus-12.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (9-12) have won two straight and five of their past seven while remaining on top of the Atlantic Division. The Celtics travel to New York Saturday for two games in the Empire State against the Knicks (Sunday) and Nets (Tuesday). Reunion week continues Wednesday when former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers visit TD Garden.
- FIRST-TIME MEETING: Friday's game will feature two of the league's nine first-year coaches this season. Boston coach Brad Stevens (Butler) and Denver coach Brian Shaw (former Pacers assistant) crossed paths only briefly in Indianapolis while the two were climbing the coaching ladder, but Stevens handed out heavy praise for his counterpart. "I’m really impressed with him as a coach and, from everything I’ve heard, even more so as a person," said Stevens. "I think he’s great. Everybody that comes across his path speaks really highly of him." Shaw, who was drafted by the Celtics in the first round back in 1988 (24th overall), has the best record so far among the NBA's first-year coaches.
- STEVENS EXPECTS BOUNCE-BACK NUGGETS: Did Boston miss Denver's dud? The Nuggets' Ty Lawson had been averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game during Denver's recent seven-game winning streak. The Cavaliers ended that run on Wednesday and Lawson finished a mere 1-of-13 shooting with four points. Stevens knows that won't happen again. "Lawson is obviously not going to have that kind of game very often," he said. "[The Nuggets] play fast, they are very skilled, very aggressive. and [Kenneth] Faried’s been one of my favorite players to watch forever since she was at Morehead St. I could go through the laundry list of things we need to do well, but we’re going to have to play exceptionally well, maybe as well as any game we’ve played, to do what we want to do [Friday] night."
- TRANSITION DEFENSE IN FOCUS: The Nuggets rank in the top half of the league in most of the league's major advanced statistical categories, including seventh in offensive rating (105.3) and 13th in defensive rating (102.2). The Nuggets attack the offensive glass (8th in offensive rebound percentage) and limit their turnovers (sixth in turnover percentage). They only glaring weakness is defensive rebounding (29th in defensive rebound percentage). Will the Celtics try to exploit that? Worries about transition defense might limit how much Boston attacks the offensive glass. "The bottom line is one of the reasons [the Nuggets struggle on the defensive glass] is because they are so small. We’re small, too," said Stevens. "It’s not going to be the battle of 7-footers to start that game [Friday]. It’s a bunch of undersized guys for their positions, but very effective guys. [J.J.] Hickson’s very effective; Faried’s very effective, as are [Brandon] Bass and [Jared] Sullinger, so it’s a little bit unique and that uniqueness will be evened out because we’re both that way. The biggest key is you have to be able to manage [attacking the offensive glass] with getting back, because they are a fast team to the other end of the floor."
- WHAT ELSE?: With some help from our friends at ESPN Stats and Info: The Nuggets averaged 110.7 points per 100 possessions during their seven-game winning streak. That mark would easily top the NBA if maintained. ... Boston has won 19 of its last 22 home games against Denver, including three straight. ... The Nuggets own the fourth-highest pace in the league (99.22 possessions per 48 minutes) and will likely crank the tempo. ... The Celtics won't be the only team waiting on a player rehabbing from ACL surgery (Rajon Rondo) as Denver's Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL in April. He averaged 16.2 points per game last season, second most on the team behind Lawson (16.7). ... Boston is just 1-7 against teams at or above .500 this season.
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* YOU AGAIN?!: The Celtics and Nuggets played 15 extra minutes two weeks back as Boston emerged with a gritty triple-overtime win. Both sides felt the aftereffects, but will be fresh coming off the All-Star break. The Nuggets have been nothing short of dominant at home, losing only three times (Miami, Minnesota, Washington), but Boston did send Denver into a bit of a pre-All-Star funk. After having their nine game-winning streak snapped at TD Garden, the Nuggets lost three straight to close out a four-game road trip -- the last two, Denver was without Danilo Gallinari (illness) and Andre Iguodala (neck).
* ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Celtics won eight of their last nine before the All-Star break, but seven of those wins came at home. Boston needed a fourth-quarter rally to top Toronto on the road, then stumbled in Charlotte (the night after the triple-OT win against Denver). This road trip should offer a better gauge of just how competitive this team is and how much mental resolve they own after losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and Leandro Barbosa.
* IGNORE THE NOISE: The post-All-Star trip is never easy on Boston's nerves. The road trip is daunting enough with five games in seven days, but then you factor in Thursday's trade deadline smack dab in the middle. Players can't help but worry about their futures when their names swirl in rumors, but Boston has to keep its focus on the court. In fact, playing inspired ball early on this trip might only further convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to keep this roster intact through Thursday's deadline.
* LAWSON IN FOCUS: The Celtics absolutely have to do a better job on point guard Ty Lawson, who erupted for a game-high 29 points in the first meeting and his late-game heroics helped force overtime. Lawson is scorching the floor while shooting 62.3 percent and averaging 28 points over the last three games.
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce played 54 minutes 11 seconds during Sunday's triple-overtime triumph over the Denver Nuggets. That's a mere three seconds short of his career high (set seven years ago during a double-overtime loss to Cleveland). Kevin Garnett logged 47:03, a number he's reached only 24 times in his entire career and not since playing 51 minutes for the Timberwolves in March 2007.
If Celtics coach Doc Rivers elected to give Pierce and Garnett a night off when the team travels to Charlotte for the tail end of a back-to-back on Monday, he could be forgiven (heck, with no national TV broadcast, the league might not even make the team pay for it). As Boston prepped to board its midnight flight, Rivers was noncommittal about how he'll proceed.
"I’ll let you know after the game [Monday]," Rivers said. "I mean Paul played 54 minutes, and he’s the guy that I’m most concerned with to be honest. And they just played so hard. ... If we have to rest guys, play them shorter minutes tomorrow -- the only way I can do it is by my eyes. You’ll never know how guys feel until [Monday]."
Pierce smiled when asked after Sunday's game if he was tired.
"Yeah, I'm tired after every game," he said. Pressed on if he was more tired than usual, Pierce added, "Well, my adrenaline is still coming down. I'm sure I'll feel it later."
Garnett playfully joked about his whopping minute total, even after catching a brief breather at the start of the second overtime.
"I told Doc I wasn't build for this s--- and I don't know what the hell he thought," Garnett quipped. "But I probably won't even play [Monday] night. I'm lying. I'm out here grinding. It's what it is. Heart of a champion. What can I say?"
If nothing else, the Celtics almost certainly will lean heavier on their younger legs on Monday in Charlotte. The team has to hope the likes of Avery Bradley (45:44 vs. Denver) and Jeff Green (41:38) can bounce back to take some of the pressure off the 35+ club of Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry (42:38).
Boston's depth (and youthfulness) has eroded with the loss of Rajon Rondo and rookie Jared Sullinger. But given the season struggles of the Bobcats, Boston figures to look to a bench that has risen to the challenge for much of this seven-game winning streak.
The Celtics are 6-6 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, but a mere 3-6 when that second game occurs on the road. Boston might be willing to sacrifice a loss -- even with a season-high seven-game winning streak in place -- after pulling out Sunday's win.
"Honestly, I’m thinking in the middle of [Sunday's] game or late in the game in the overtimes, ‘Boy, [Monday is] going to be hard,’" Rivers said. "It’s funny how a coach thinks. I’m thinking, ‘We have to somehow win this game tonight.’”
Read on for a few more postgame notes:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Paul Pierce utilized the extra sessions to register his second triple-double in the seven games since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season. Pierce finished with a team-high 27 points to go along with 14 rebounds and 14 assists over a career-high 54:11, while Jason Terry posted a season high with 26 points on 10-of-22 shooting. Kevin Garnett added a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds for Boston, while Jeff Green (17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) hit some huge shots in clutch situations to help Boston eventually emerge. Ty Lawson scorched the Celtics to the tune of 29 points, hitting big shots all night to keep the Nuggets alive. Danilo Gallinari overcame an ice-cold start to score 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Kenneth Faried added 14 points and 12 rebounds.
TURNING POINT I: NUGGETS TAKE LATE FIRST LEAD
Despite leading by as much as 12, the Celtics watched the Nuggets pull even two minutes into the fourth quarter after Andre Miller spun his way through the lane for a crafty turn-back-the-clock layup that tied the score at 78 with 9:54 to go. Terry responded with a 15-foot jumper to ignite a 7-0 burst that included a corner 3-pointer from Avery Bradley, but Denver rallied back to take its first lead on a 3-pointer from Lawson with 1:43 to play. (Faried, who kept the play alive, was whistled for a post-shot technical that allowed Boston to immediately tie the game at 90.)
TURNING POINT II: TIE LAWSON
Green got Faried in the air with a pump fake beyond the arc, then buried a 16-foot baseline jumper with 47.9 seconds remaining for a 92-90 lead. Faried nearly atoned, driving hard at the basket and drawing a blocking foul on Pierce with 5.4 ticks to go, but he missed the first of two freebies. Faried missed the second free throw on purpose and Miller sneaked in for a clean putback attempt that would have tied the game, but missed it. Denver got another chance when Boston knocked the ball out of bounds with 3.6 seconds to go (video replay overturning the initial call) and Lawson made it hurt by banking in a layup with 0.8 seconds to go to tie the game at 92, forcing the first overtime.
TURNING POINT III: DOUBLE OVERTIME
Green's clutch corner 3-pointer with 23.8 seconds to go tied the game at 99 in the first overtime and Lawson missed a triple at the buzzer to force a second extra session. Boston rested Garnett to start double overtime, but the team as a whole didn't have enough left in the tank. The Nuggets scored the first two hoops of the frame and Boston didn't get on the board until Green's driving layup with 88 seconds to play. Garnett tied the game at 103 with a jumper, but Gallinari, ice cold to that point, hit a 19-foot fadeaway with 37 seconds to go to put the Nuggets back out front. Pierce got to the line, but missed the second of two freebies, and Lawson responded with a 19-foot straightaway jumper for a 107-104 lead with 18.9 to go. Pierce went isolation and somehow willed in the tying 3-pointer with Miller draped on him with 5.2 seconds to go.
TURNING POINT IV: CELTICS EMERGE
Garnett, with a whopping 47 minutes for the game, hit some huge shots to start the third extra session, but it was Terry who hit a clutch 3-pointer with 1:33 to go in a tied game, produced a late-game steal, then capped the game with a layup in transition as an exhausted Boston squad celebrated a gritty win.
FAST START, QUICK RESPONSE
The Celtics opened the game on a 12-0 run, holding the Nuggets without a bucket for the first 4:18 (Denver turned the ball over five times during that span). Lawson finally broke up the shutout (after another near-turnover) with a pull-up jumper that ignited a little 9-0 run (highlighted by a monster alley-oop slam by Faried in transition off a Lawson feed) as the Nuggets got right back in the game. Denver turned the ball over seven times (for 14 points) in the frame allowing Boston to build a 10-point cushion (29-19) after 12 minutes -- but it chipped away all night.
WHAT IT MEANS
Wow, what a game. The Celtics simply refused to let this one get away. In doing so, they ended Denver's nine-game winning streak and pushed their own winning streak to a season-high seven games. The Celtics have now played a ridiculous 14 overtime sessions (5 single; 3 double; 1 triple). That’s 70 extra minutes (1.5 games). And Boston has a back-to-back looming Monday in Charlotte. For now, the Celtics will savor this one and worry about that when they get to North Carolina.
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers desperately wanted to sneak in a practice session on Saturday, but ultimately erred on the side of caution as the region dug itself out from two feet of snow. Boston's players will have been inactive since Thursday's win over the rival Lakers. and Rivers is worried it could take some time to shake some rust, even amid a six-game winning streak.
"Trust me, we tried everything we could [Saturday], even into the evening. Our [director of] security, Mr. Phil Lynch, thought it would be very dangerous, and he was right, which I hate to say that," Rivers said. "So I’m very concerned. We even contemplated going this morning on a 6 o’clock game, it’s just tough when you have two days off. What actually concerned me more is that Denver was playing last night, because you knew they would come in with rhythm. But there’s nothing you can do. We came earlier than usual this evening [to TD Garden for a walkthrough], and actually went over stuff at a real pace. I don’t know what that does, but it makes me feel better."
The Nuggets, winners of a league-best nine straight, were delayed getting in from Cleveland and didn't get to their hotel until around 3 a.m., so neither side is particularly thrilled with Mother Nature's winter inconveniences.
But Rivers tried to make the most of the inactivity, even venturing out in the storm on Friday night with Boston a car-less wonderland due to a travel ban.
"I went out on the blizzard night because my oldest [Jeremiah] was in," Rivers said. "He’s from Florida and he’s never been in one. So I thought he should experience it. We walked about a half block and he wanted to turn around -- that was disappointing. But it was cool. It was really neat seeing the city with no one in it, at least no cars. It was great."
Rivers said he spent Saturday watching basketball and cooking gumbo. With the extra time, he got an extended glimpse of these streaking Nuggets. So why are they so successful?
"Because they run, they play together," Rivers said. "I love watching them, I tell [Denver coach] George [Karl] that all the time. They are genderless when you watch them play -- nobody cares. They have six guys in double figures. [Kenneth] Faried yesterday led the team in attempts or second in attempts; today he could take two attempts and he doesn’t care. They don’t care and that’s what you see when you watch them play. It's a very difficult team to load on. We load on a couple guys per game, [but] we’re sitting trying to pick which guy do we do that to tonight. It’s just hard."
Is that what Rivers wants to see from his Rajon Rondo-less Celtics?
"I don’t know if we’ll have that balance because we have a guy named Paul Pierce on our team that’s pretty good, and Kevin Garnett," Rivers said. "After those two, the balance should look like [Denver does]."
One other pregame note: rookie center Fab Melo is back with the team after being recalled from Maine of the D-League to add depth to Boston's injury-thinned roster.
* WE'RE GOING STREAKING!: It's a battle of the league's two hottest teams as Boston enters with a season-best six-game winning streak, while Denver has won a league-best nine in a row. The Celtics will have a slight edge after taking the last two days off (snow forced the team to scrap Saturday's practice). The Nuggets played in Cleveland on Saturday night.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: The Nuggets are ninth in the league offensively, averaging 0.93 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Transition accounts for a whopping 18 percent of possessions for pace-pushing Denver (tied for the top play-type along with spot-up shooting). The Nuggets rank ninth in transition, masking some of their woes in spot-up and pick-and-roll (though they are top 10 in isolation). Danilo Gallinari (1.031 points per play, 89th percentile) and Kenneth Faried (1.011, 85th) are among the team's most efficient offensive players. Defensively, the Nuggets are eighth overall while allowing 0.9 points per play. Denver is one of the worst teams in the league versus spot-up shooting, but limits the damage via other top play types. Paul Pierce is probably happy to have to deal with Andre Iguodala (0.749 points per play, 89th percentile) only twice per season now.
* READY TO RUN: The Nuggets own the second-highest pace in the league (97.69 possessions per 48 minutes) and should be looking to crank things up against a Boston team that's more middle-of the pack (18th, 93.62 possessions). The Celtics won't shy from an up-tempo game as coach Doc Rivers has implored his team to run, particularly looking to generate early offense since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season.
* NO SECOND CHANCES: Denver ranks second in the league in offensive rebound percentage (31.8 percent). Timofey Mozgov owns the team's best offensive rebounding percentage (14.1 percent) and everyone knows what Faried (13.8 percent) can do on the glass. But Denver is relentless and JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos each have solid offensive rebound rates as well. The Celtics, particularly as they attempt to play more small ball, absolutely have to be sharp on the glass to prevent second-chance opportunities.
Rapid Reaction following the Boston Celtics' 98-91 loss Saturday night to the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center:
HOW THE GAME WAS LOST: The Nuggets took control early and staved off a Boston rally in the fourth quarter to get the win. Denver dominated the glass (46-27), had a big advantage in fast-break points (21-6) and scored 20 points off Celtics turnovers. You can't go on the road and expect to win with numbers like those. "We got outworked. That's what bothered me," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. Denver got 20 points from Danilo Gallinari but the real killer was rookie Kenneth Faried, who was an absolute beast inside with 18 points and 16 rebounds in only 24 minutes. It also didn't help the Celtics' cause that Paul Pierce, who had 22 points, fouled out with 3:51 to play. Kevin Garnett also had 22 points for the Celtics despite not taking a shot for the first 11-plus minutes of the game.
TURNING POINT: You could almost say the turning point for this game was on Dec. 6, the day the NBA released its schedule. Playing in Denver is tough enough. Playing in Denver after having played the night before in Sacramento is close to diabolical. There's an hour time change; an airport that is more than 24 miles from the nearest team hotel; the altitude; Denver had not played the night before. Throw into this equation the fact that the Nuggets love to run, love to shoot, love to score and you have the makings for that old favorite, a "schedule loss." Predictably, the Celtics played much of the game at a double-digit deficit before making a run in the fourth and getting to within two points on two occasions. But Faried -- more on him later -- scored six of the Nuggets' last 11 points. The Celtics also were killed by turnovers. They committed 16, which led to the 20 Nuggets points. They cut the Denver lead to 10 early in the fourth and then turned it over on three straight possessions, miscues which came back to haunt them when they made a run at the end.
BOLD PLAY(ER) OF THE GAME: Kenneth Faried was the unsung hero, hands down. The rookie power forward from Morehead State killed the Celtics with a night of perfection. He was 5-of-5 from the field (OK, he only does layups, dunks and short flips.) He also was 8-of-8 from the line after entering the game having made 66 percent of his free throws. That's 18 points without a single play being called for him. He also hauled in 16 rebounds, a career-best, and was the personification of energy in his 24 minutes on the floor. He was the 22nd pick in last year's NBA draft.
STATS: Serious box-score readers may do a double-take when they see that Marquis Daniels played 20 minutes, most of them meaningful. That has happened since ... who knows when? Okay, since Jan. 23. Basically, he had been a fixture on the bench since the arrival of Mickael Pietrus. But he was on the floor when the Celtics made their run and not only finished with 8 points, but also was the only Celtic who had a plus-minus better than plus-1. He was plus-8. "He played great for us," Rivers said of Daniels, adding he went with Daniels out of a "gut" decision. ... Rivers picked up his seventh technical of the season (and second of the road trip.) This one seemed worth the money. Rajon Rondo was called for an offensive foul after he had been fouled himself on a drive -- and had made the shot. So it took away a three-point play. "I thought the Rondo play was huge," Rivers said. ... The Celtics are 22-14 on St. Patrick's Day. ... Rondo had 16 assists.
INJURY UPDATE: Paul Pierce was supposed to be a game-time decision after tweaking his right ankle Friday night in Sacramento. But he started and played 31 minutes before fouling out for the first time this season. (His previous high was 5 fouls against Washington on Jan. 22.) Pierce has not missed a game since sitting out the first three of the season with a bruised right heel. He had 22 points against the Nuggets.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Celtics fell to 2-3 on their road trip and now head East with games against three teams that figure in their playoff plans -- Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. They caught a break with the Sixers' losing on Saturday night to the Bulls. The Monday night game against Atlanta marks the first meeting of the season between the teams. Catching the Hawks or Sixers would be huge for the Celtics because it would mean they would avoid having to play the Bulls or Heat in the first round.
But Pierce, who hasn't missed a game since he sat out the first three of the season with a sore right heel, was ready to go against the Denver Nuggets.
Pierce missed the last six-plus minutes of the Kings game after hurting the ankle when he stepped on the foot of Marcus Thornton while setting a screen.
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